UNICEF UK has launched a report into air pollution, including a national call to action and recommended measures for government, in order to urgently reduce levels of air pollutants in areas populated by children.

Around a third of UK children are growing up in areas with unsafe levels of air pollution and without urgent intervention, toxic levels of air pollution are expected to persist for the next ten years.

The report, Healthy air for every child: a call for national action, calls on the UK government to:

  • Set legally binding targets to met to meet World Health Organization-recommended limit values for particulate matter across the UK by 2030 and take urgent action to meet existing targets on Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).
  • Commit to a cross-governmental healthy air for children action plan that sets out a national framework to protect children and young people from toxic air where they are most at risk.
  • Commit to a Little Lungs Fund providing ring-fenced funding to protect children and young people from toxic air amounting to a minimum of £215 million in the first year and yearly replenishments until 2030, or as long as air pollution levels remain unhealthy.

Young people and children are at significantly increased risk from air pollution compared to most adults and there is increasing evidence that even unborn children can be affected, if it is inhaled by their mothers.

UNICEF’s report highlights the risks posed to children on their way to and while at school, and also describes the increased risk attached to belonging to a low-income family resulting from the urban locations of less affluent communities.

UK Health Alliance on Climate Change Director, Nicky Philpott said:

“Our members, some 650,000 UK health professionals, have consistently called for the Government’s commitment to improving air quality be enshrined in law, and with children being among the most vulnerable to the health effects of air pollution, we wholeheartedly support the recommendations in today’s UNICEF report.

“It is a national disgrace that one in three children are growing up in areas of unsafe levels of air pollution and is an infringement of their rights under UN convention.

“Air pollution exacerbates conditions such as asthma, but can also harm the developing lungs of infants and even affect unborn children in the womb.

“We know that acting to reduce air pollution can also help to limit climate change, as many of the sources of air pollution are also sources of greenhouse gases. Introducing ways of lowering air pollution for our children is urgent and would also serve to stem climate change, giving them the chance of an even better, healthier future.

“Asthma resulted in the deaths of 1,320 people in England and Wales 2017, and air pollution is a major trigger for an attack.

“The case for improving public health by improving air quality has been made, and health professionals, UNICEF and others are all looking to the Government to commit to ambitious legally binding targets to ensure we have air fit to breathe.”